In an industry where #wristshot is the lingua franca (there are 3.2 million hashtags on Instagram and counting), photos of watches often look redundant and uninspired.
In 2020, during the pandemic, James Kong, then a New York corporate lawyer, tried to change that. Mr. Kong said by phone last month that he bought a new camera and decided to post a new picture of his watch on Instagram every day with the goal of making his watch look “heroic.”
“I work from home and I need something to distract me,” he said. “I don’t know what I’m doing.”
Three years later, Mr. Kong became a prolific freelance watch photographer, with clients including brands and editorial platforms, including the well-known watch website Hodinkee. He quit his day job last December when a fellow collector, Thomas Fleming, approached him about a position at Fleming, the watch brand he founded. Mr. Kong currently serves as Fleming’s chief operating officer.
In some ways, Mr. Kong is following in the footsteps of one of his mentors, Ming Thein. Minden was a professional photographer turned watchmaker. Kong read “From A to Z” in his 2020 blog about photography.
“One thing I learned from Ming: There is no excuse for sloppiness,” Mr. Kong said. “When you take a picture of a watch, you can control every variable. You should be able to put the shadows where you want them.”
But what should be done? The New York Times asked a group of photographers, both professionals and amateurs, to share their tips for taking better watch photos.
Invest in equipment
Most people can take the perfect picture of their watch using their smartphone. However, for anyone looking to take these images to the next level, proper camera settings are necessary.
Lydia Winters, chief storyteller at Minecraft developer Mojang Studios, started taking watches and watch photography seriously during the pandemic, when she and her partner Vu Bui Take photos of flowers in the garden to pass the time. Stockholm’s botanical gardens.
In January 2022, the couple began posting on a YouTube channel they created for watch and photography enthusiasts. In the first episode, they focus on basic tips for capturing better watch shots. “Tip one: If you want to improve your watch photography, upgrade your watch,” Ms. Winters said in the video. She then slid two plastic bottle caps under the Seiko model she was photographing to demonstrate how it could be lifted off a flat surface to draw attention to the watch.
Ms. Winters uses a digital medium format Hasselblad X2D (the Swedish camera brand named her a “Hasselblad Heroine” in 2022 as part of its focus on female photographers), equipped with a Hasselblad XCD 120mm macro lens, and an XCD 80 -mm lens, which allows her to achieve a shallow depth of field.
“In traditional watch or product photography,” she said during a recent video call, “you try to focus everything on the object. But I’m just shooting for myself, so if only a small part is in focus I’m fine with that. question, because sometimes it makes everything seem more magical.”
Mr. Kong stated that he uses a Nikon Z7 II digital camera for his professional work and uses the Canon 135mm TS-E as his primary lens. “TS stands for tilt-shift lens, which is a special lens that changes the focal plane,” he said. “I find this useful for watch photography because you can position the watch at a tilted angle and still have the dial in focus.”
Atom Moore chose a German-made Leica camera, but the New York-based photographer admits that cheaper options could be just as effective.
“When people ask me what the best camera is, I always tell them it’s the camera you want to carry with you and know how to use,” Mr. Moore said during a recent phone call.
Mr. Moore, who did the original photography for a forthcoming book about the 40th anniversary of the G-Shock watch, recommends using the latest mirrorless cameras, which have built-in image stabilization, as well as software programs such as Capture One, which connects the camera directly to computer. “That way, I can see exactly what I’m getting,” he said.
Many photography professionals insist that the secret to a good photo is good lighting, but with a watch, “it’s really about reflection management,” Mr. Kong said.
“A watch is like a multi-faceted mirror,” he added. “Each watch reacts differently to light, depending on the position of its surface, the texture of the dial and the shape of the crystal.”
At first, Mr. Kong only used natural light. He then moved on to continuous types of lighting, then off-camera strobes and strobes, “because flash photography allows you to control your surroundings in a way that natural or continuous lighting can’t,” he says.
However, casual photographers like Ms. Winters often prefer natural light. “Sometimes I can position myself between the camera and the light source, which works with reflections on the watch crystal,” she says.
An inexpensive reflector or “reflector card” helps direct light in the desired direction and is an easy way to illuminate a watch, Mr. Moore said. He recommends purchasing a large piece of quarter-inch-thick foam board at an art supply store and cutting it into small cards that can be folded open like a book. LED lights can achieve the same effect, he added.
“Putting a card and/or LED light on the side of your watch can go a long way toward taking a really good photo, even if it’s just for a quick social media moment,” Mr. Moore said.
Use settings and editing tools
For best results on a smartphone, it helps to manually lower the exposure by swiping down on the screen when you’re using the camera app, Ms. Winters said.
“If your photo is underexposed, you can always make it brighter, but if you accidentally overexpose it, you can’t restore it,” she says.
Once your shot is complete, photo editing apps like Lightroom allow you to make subtle but meaningful improvements. “I try to get as much of the effect right as possible in camera and then use Lightroom to get some pop or clarity on the dial,” Ms. Winters said.
Mr. Moore cautions against over-editing. “Sometimes overly contrasting things make it obvious that you’ve manipulated the image,” he says.
make it art
Photographers say that in addition to the technical details required to create top-notch watch images, they also consider artistic factors.
Karine Bauzin is a freelance photographer based in Geneva who specializes in documentary photos and portraits of watch industry executives. For the past ten years, she has been working on a personal project for which she Traveled to more than 20 countries and filmed random people’s reactions to a certain issue. Simple question: “What time is it now?”
Using a Leica camera equipped with a 35mm lens, she took some 80 pictures in an ongoing series that were exhibited at the Watches and Wonders Fair in Geneva last spring, while a smaller version was on display at the Watches and Wonders Fair. photo. Shanghai Expo earlier this month.
“When you wake up in the morning until you go to bed, you see a lot of pictures,” Ms. Bauzan said in a video call. “To me, the photos you remember are the photos you take when you have emotions.”
For Ms. Winters, watch photography at its best is fun and personal. For example, for St. Patrick’s Day in March, she photographed three Rolex watches with colorful dials arranged in a bowl of Lucky Charms cereal.
“I really like photos that tell you something about the person or object,” she said. “Are you in a cool place? Are there things around you? Sometimes it’s nice to have props around your house. Why is this a watch for you and not a watch that anyone can have?”
The pursuit of storytelling is what keeps Mr. Kong clicking.
“When I started looking at photography in 2020,” he says, “I had no intention of becoming famous as a photographer. I was just motivated to share these things that I had spent so much of my life staring at and obsessing over.
“If I see a photo and it makes me dream, then it’s worth showing,” he added.
Photographed for sale
Then again, some people are just looking for pictures that can help them sell or trade their watches. In this case, Mike Nouveau of Los Angeles-based vintage watch company Craft + Tailored has some detailed advice.
“The dial is 80 percent of the value, and it should be 80 percent of the photo,” Nuvo said by phone from New York. “I tell them to pretend the bracelet isn’t there and tilt the watch 30 degrees or so.”
He added that the vast majority of watch sales take place online. “People are sending $200,000 without seeing the watch, so they have to rely on photos.”
Anyone who has browsed watch listings on resale sites like Chrono24 is probably familiar with bad watch photography. Such information is flooding the Internet, and Nuvo said some people have found a lucrative side hustle simply by buying watches with poor images and then rephotographing them to make them look more attractive.
“If you’re a dealer with a talent for photography,” he said, “you can probably make some money.”